Q. What made you decide to be a doctor?
A. A number of things. First, I wanted a career where I can feel like I am directly helping people, and I can immediately see the impact of what I do on people's lives. I also love the science behind the medicine--biology was always my favorite subject throughout school. I enjoy knowing how the body works, and why disease happens.
Q. What kind of training or schooling beyond high school did you need to become an obstetrician?
A. First of all, you have to do well in high school, because you need to go to a good four-year college. In your third year of college, you take the MCATs (entrance exam for medical school) and start the application process for medical schools. Med school is another four years. During med school, you decide on what kind of doctor you want to be--what your specialty is going to be (for example, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, adult medicine, general surgery, etc.) You then apply to a residency (a training program--this is where I am now) for that specific specialty. They vary in length from three to ten years. So, in total, you will go through between eleven and eighteen years of school and training after high school! For ob/gyn, the residency is four years long. I am currently in my third year.
Q. At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to be an obstetrician specifically?
A. I knew even during high school and college that I was interested in women's health issues. My goals and my reasons for choosing ob/gyn have evolved througout my training. I initially thought I wanted to run an inner city clinic; I then thought I wanted to "sub-specialize" in high-risk obstetrics. My current plans are to do sub-specialty training (called a "fellowship"--another step after residency training) in gynecologic oncology. This is the subspecialty that deals with surgery for gynecologic cancers. I have chosen it specifically because the surgery is difficult and interesting, and I enjoy caring for patients with complex medical problems.
Q. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your job?
A. There are a number of things I love about my job. I love the relationships I develop with my patients in the office. I have a number of patients I've been following for several years, whom I've operated on, and who come back to me for care. I love the continuity of getting to see them repeatedly for whatever comes up. I also love to operate--this is what gets me up in the morning. There is nothing more satisfying (I find) than taking someone to the operating room and being able to solve their problems. Obviously, it's not always that straightforward--surgery does not cure everything, and you have to know who is a good candidate for surgery and who isn't. But it is one of the key reasons I chose gyn/ob. My least favorite part of my job is the hours. I work between 70 and 120 hours a week (usually closer to 70-80.) I spend several nights a week in the hospital, and then work the next day as well, which means I may work for 36 hours or more in a row. Last month, I was in the operating room until midnight on a "post-call" day (the day after I was on call in the hospital)--I worked 42 hours straight, and didn't see my family for two days. It can be very brutal.
Q. What’s the biggest part of your day-in-day-out work?
A. As a resident, my schedule varies from month to month. One month, I'm doing obstetrics; the next month Gyn oncology; the next month I may be doing a rotation in Geriatrics. So my days vary a lot based on what I'm doing. On any surgical rotation (for example, gynecology or gyn oncology) I'm usually in the hospital by 6 am; sometimes a bit earlier. I see the patients I have operated on, and then the whole team "rounds" (discusses and sees each patient) before going to the OR, which starts at 7:45am and lasts until the last case is over--whenever that is. When there aren't cases in the operating room, I go to the clinic and see patients there; that usually is over by about 5 pm. The team "rounds" again in the evening, and we go home once everything is done for the patients who are hospitalized (checking on blood work and x-rays, and so on.) On obstetrics rotations, I supervise the junior residents and teach them to deliver babies; we manage pregnant women who are having complications, such as preterm (early) labor. Days on obstetrics are bit shorter--usually about 7 am to 5pm.
Q. What might your official job description look like?
A. As a senior resident, my job description would include: supervision and teaching of junior residents and medical students; attending and supervising all deliveries; making sure that patient care is being delivered appropriately, and assisting when necessary; pre-operative, surgical, and post-operative care of gynecology/oncology patients; management of chemotherapy in oncology patients; care of clinic patients in my own clinic (once a week).... There are a lot of responsibilities; these are the ones that come to mind immediately.
Q. Are you interested in other areas of medicine?
A. I'm really very happy in gynecology. It provides a good mix of medical management and surgical intervention. I don't really think there's another area of medicine that appeals to me as much.
Q. Do you ever wish you had another job?
A. When I'm very tired and stressed out, I wish I was a pastry chef. But then, I hear their hours are pretty bad, too.
Q. What character attributes might a person need in order to become a doctor? An obstetrician specifically?
A. A good physician has an organized mind--she or he can look at a sick patient, and sort out in her mind what each of the patient's issues are and prioritize the order in which they need to be addressed. Attention to detail is critical--little things can mean life or death in medicine. The physician MUST be able to listen-- the patient frequently can tell you exactly what's wrong, if you can listen. And the physician must be empathic--If you can't place yourself in your patient's shoes and understand how scared/ happy/ painful/ etc their situation is, you will not be able to help them as much, and they will not trust you as much. To be an obstetrician/gynecologist, you also need to have patience--a lot of obstetrics involves waiting for the right moment (to deliver the baby, to decide to do a cesarean section, etcetera.) You also need good hands--no dropping the baby!!
Q.What tangible, attainable skills must a person have to be a doctor? An obstetrician specifically?
A. A lot of the things described above _are_ attainable--you need to train your mind. Specifically, an ob/gyn needs a working knowlege of abdominal and pelvic anatomy, an understanding of the changes that occur with pregnancy, an ability to recognize abnormalities during a pregnancy, or at the time of an annual gyn visit. The surgical skills needed are something that you develop during your residency training, and during years of practice.